Lunch and learn gets local support
By Morgan Fecto
Come summer 2017, local bistro and raw oyster bar Republic will give more to Takoma Park than its Duck Confit Cubano. More specifically, the restaurant will give its whole kids menu to the community.
“Two dollars of every kid’s menu item will go to the Lunch and Learn program,” said Republic’s Co-owner and Executive Chef Danny Wells. “The goal is to help provide as many as 55 laptops to the program by the end of this year.”
Now kid’s menu dishes, including parmesan kale cakes and house-made chicken nuggets, will feed more than one child. Wells said Republic will continue collecting donations for the Lunch and Learn program until the end of this year.
“I recommended this to Danny for a number of reasons,” Mayor Kate Stewart said. “One of my goals as mayor is to make sure that we have an inclusive community — that residents across Takoma Park have a sense of the whole city. There’s a need for Lunch and Learn in our community, and connecting residents who frequent Danny’s restaurant and making them aware of that need is important.”
The Lunch and Learn program is a six-week summer program sponsored by the City and Montgomery County. The program feeds student who receive free and reduced price lunches during the school year and aims to shrink the achievement gap with reading courses, math courses, and life-skill boosters, such as swimming lessons.
“When I was first elected, Essex House became a part of my ward,” said Ward 5 Councilmember Jarrett Smith. “I had a meeting with residents to find out what they needed and parents said over and over, ‘We need something for our kids to do over the summer.’ That’s how Lunch and Learn was born.”
MCPS provides the food for the program, residents run the day-to-day activities, and local organizations can contribute. MANUP, Adventist Community Services of Greater Washington, and Pepco have sponsored Lunch and Learn in previous years.
Wells and Black Restaurant Group Owner Jeff Black found that the program’s values aligned with Republic’s too. “It was Jeff’s suggestion that we pick a local children’s-based charity. It just fit because Republic is so intertwined and such a neighborhood restaurant,” Wells said. At the same time Wells and Black were considering options for children’s charities, Mayor Stewart suggested that Wells and Republic fundraise for Lunch and Learn. “It was kind of serendipitous,” Wells said.
With its fourth summer in view, Lunch and Learn has already registered 40 students from just one local apartment complex for the 2016 program. However, contributions from the community will be important for the program to grow, Smith said.
“It was always a goal for me for the private sector to invest in Lunch and Learn because you can’t sustain these programs without public dollars,” Smith said. “I think it’s fantastic that Republic is going to be such a major donor.”
Supporting Lunch and Learn was a no-brainer for Wells, who went to Piney Branch Elementary School and Takoma Park Middle School and realized he wanted to be a chef while washing dishes at Savory (now Capital City Cheesecake) as a 16-year-old.
“After that I knew that I wanted to open a restaurant in Takoma Park,” Well said. Wells hopes to share his food with local students at a fundraising event in the coming months.
This article appeared in the June 2016 edition of the Takoma Park Newsletter. The Takoma Park Newsletter is available for download here.